Did Stoney Trail Mazda Scam Me?

I don’t know much about cars. I’m one of those guys that, if something goes wrong with my car, I’ll call the AMA and let someone smarter than me figure it out. The most complicated thing I’ve done on my own cars is replace a headlight. So there’s the context for this story.

On Friday I took my 2003 Mazda Protege 5 to Stoney Trail Mazda in Calgary for an oil change, and after 30 minutes a woman came back to tell me that they were suggesting the following procedures for my car beyond the oil change:

  • Replace air filter ($30)
  • Injector flush ($170)
  • Power steering flush ($90)
  • Replace broken fog light ($270)

I was expecting to walk out spending under $50, and they were suggesting I spend more than 10 times that much! I felt a bit overwhelmed at first, but I started asking questions because it seemed curious that so much needed to happen at once. The broken fog light, she said, wasn’t just a simple blown bulb – the entire assembly needed to be replaced. The car has 61K KM on it, and had never had any of the fluids replaced/flushed beyond the oil and wind shield wiper fluid, but did that mean that both the power steering and injector systems needed to be flushed? I ended up saying yes to the air filter and power steering flush, but said I’d decide later on the injetor flush and fog light.

After she walked away I started searching online for articles related to the topic, and found a good one on injector flushing. I also found a bunch of forum threads where people were discussing the same topic, and the general consensus I found was that unless there’s a suspected problem with the injectors, there’s no need to flush them. It seems that telling customers that their vehicle’s injectors need flushing is an easy money-maker for the auto shop. I’m glad I said no to that. As for the power steering flush, that seems to be more of a mixed bag – some people say it’s good to have it changed every five years or so – which means my car is due – but in general unless you’re having problems with your power steering, the fluids don’t need to be touched. As someone who does computer consulting, it looks like most fluid flushing is right up there with me telling someone the SATA ports on their computer need defragmenting, or their WiFi signal needs cleaning because it’s dirty.

Here’s what ticks me off about this: I took my Mazda back to a Mazda dealership rather than taking it to Mr. Lube or another quick-change shop because I wanted, and expected, by-the-book Mazda maintenance. Meaning that unless Mazda themselves recommended a certain procedure in the owners manual, the Mazda dealership wouldn’t recommend anything different. When I went up to pay for the procedures, I told the woman at the desk I wasn’t sure I’d ever come back to this dealership again for servicing. I wasn’t rude or angry when I said it. She asked me why, and I explained that after some research I didn’t believe that they were giving me sound advice about what really needed to be done on my car. She replied that merely relays what the technicians tell her.

The kicker? When I drove home and pulled into the garage I turned all my lights off and on, including the fog lights, and they all work just fine. I find it hard to believe that Stoney Trail Mazda would be so bold as to tell a customer a light isn’t working if it is, but on the other hand I’m baffled as to why they thought it wasn’t working.

So, any car experts out there care to weigh in on this?

  • I think the only way to get decent servicing for your car is to go on personal recommendations for garages. I don’t know how things work in Canada, but in the UK you can have your car serviced at any independent garage and still keep the full warranty with the dealer.

    Though I would suggest that after 5 years your brake fluid should be changed. I’ve never changed power steering fluid, and injector flush is a bit pointless on any car.

  • mrozema

    This is a classic example of what mechanics shops, in my experience, are all about. Private shop or dealer, they’re the same. They will try to advise the customer that several additional procedures are required.

    – If they claim that something is broken, ask them to see it and physically point it out.
    – Flushing injectors is silly. You can buy a bottle of injector cleaner from Canadian Tire for under $10.
    – There’s no point in replacing brake fluid unless you experience less than optimal braking performance. It won’t go bad, it just gets dirty.
    – Power steering fluid really doesn’t need to be done unless they can prove that it’s getting too dirty and needs to be flushed. This also applies to brake fluid.

  • mrozema – with the greatest respect, brake fluid is one of the few parts of the car that it’s essential to replace periodically (typically 2 year intervals). While it can get dirty, being hygroscopic it absorbs water over time. A reputable garage can check the water content, but it’s prudent to simply change the fluid and bleed the system when it costs under $50.

    Eventually, you’ll be applying the brakes on a long, steep descent, and the fluid will heat up past the boiling point of the water contained within. This evaporates, and since gas is compressible, your brakes stop working.

    I cannot over-emphasise the importance of regularly changing brake fluid.

  • kdfitzgerald

    Its to bad a lot of people are under educated when it comes to preventative or preventive maintenance for their vehicles. I understand that some mechanics and lube shops have given the industry a bad rap for “upselling”, but when a fuel injector flush is recommended to you its usually something your car needs. I have seen first hand what dirty injectors, throttle bodies, valves, and bad fuel can do. Its not just an injector service. It cleans the entire fuel system which promotes better fuel economy, lowers emissions, restores lost horsepower and on and on. One can from Canadian tire will not accomplish this. Not all cleaners are made equal. Most fast lube’s and dealerships will have a much higher quality kit or cleaner which can’t be bought at any store. I will admit that some people can get away with never cleaning the fuel system while others will notice extreme degradation in engine performance, gas mileage and I have seen vehicles that won’t start because of a gummed up throttle body. In the end its up to you. IT’S CALLED PREVENTIVE MAINTENANCE so if you don’t care about how long your car runs than do what you want. Anyone can say no to a technician, so if you are not sure get more information. This also applied to powersteering systems. The fluid will eventually get contaminated just like any other on your vehicle. Why don’t we want to change it? It is not some super lubricant that never wears out so change it every so often if you want the vehicle’s system to last. Its pretty simple and I have had enough of people knocking the mechanical industry because they don’t care about there vehicles. Thanks.

  • David,
    It’s interesting that you’re so adamant about changing the brake fluids. I don’t recall that ever being done on my cars, but I did some reading and found this site:

    http://www.aa1car.com/library/bfluid.htm

    They seem to think it’s a good idea – but I wonder how often? Every two years seems quite frequent – you’re in the UK, right? I wonder if moisture levels there force the changing of the fluid more often than other climates?

  • Best thing to do is to get it tested.

    It’s strange how things seem to be reversed between the two continents. Volkswagen specify brake fluid changes every two years, but oil changes every 20,000 miles in some cases. When I was living in Phoenix, most people changed their oil every 5k.

    I take your point about moisture levels for the UK (we’ve just had three weeks of rain every day) but the same recommendations seem to apply across the whole of Europe.

  • Neil

    Air filter makes sense, it’s something that should be replaced on a regular basis. If you don’t want to mess with things, pay the $30. However it’s also one of the dead simplest parts to replace on a car, and Canadian Tire will have your filter for half that amount.

    The other three are a crock (unless your fog light housing really was broken).

    As for brake fluids, yes, every two years is recommended as it absorbs moisture from the air over time and loses its effectiveness. It’s not the end of the world if you don’t, but it’s surprising how much firmer your brake pedal will feel after it is done.

    I do my oil every 7500 miles. 3k is a made-up number that the quick-change places use to get you to come in more often. Hell, the automatic maintenance computer on my BMW doesn’t expect me to change my oil until 15,000 miles are up.

    One thing that is helpful is to buy a copy of the repair manual for your car, even if you never plan on doing work on your car yourself. It will tell you whether things like power steering fluid, etc, should be swapped out and at what interval.

  • David,
    Oil changes vary car to car – my Mazda Protege 5 gets an oil change every 6000 KM or so, but Ashley’s Mini Cooper (which thankfully we sold last week!) would go for about 24,000 KM before it needs an oil change.

  • kdfitzgerald,
    I appreciate you coming here to express your opinion, but “change it because we said so” isn’t a great reason as far as I’m concerned, at least not when I don’t have confidence that what I’m being told is the truth. The people who made the car know how the car should be maintained, and that’s all I was asking for. I’m not adverse to spending money to maintain my vehicle, but only if it’s actually required. And based on everything I’m reading online, an injector flush without any indication of actual problems seems dubious at best.

    I’m curious, how did you find this blog post? Do you work for Stoney Trail Mazda by any chance?

  • Neil

    By the way, it really pays to shop around to some of the smaller repair places in town and to ask for recommendations from friends. I’m going to be doing some repairs on my car’s AC, and in order to do that I need someone to safely empty the refrigerant. Three places I called wanted $245 to empty and then refill.

    Then I went up the road to the little place on the corner that was recommended by a friend and he’ll empty and refill the AC for only $90. And he’ll let me take the car back in between so I can replace the necessary parts myself. Total cost will be $180 ($90 for parts I ordered online). Original estimate for having an auto place do all the repair work was over $600.

  • Jason, I don’t trust car dealers to perform any maintenance. I’ve never had a good experience with a car dealer’s maintenance department, and every mechanic I know who once worked for a dealership tells me that my instincts are correct.

    I had a 1993 Mazda MX3 once. I bought it in ’95 used. The radio had a security feature that required a 4 digit code if the radio was removed from power. My friend and I disconnected the battery while doing some maintenance, and when we reconnected, the radio flashed “code”. I took it to the Mazda dealer closest to me. They told me it would take 1 hour to fix and cost $50. I decided to take it back to the dealer I bought it from, where they fixed it in 10 seconds for no charge.

    Don’t even get me started on the local Ford dealer and what they put us through when the head gasket on my wife’s ’95 Windstar blew.

    I have a mechanic down the street from my house. I use him for most of my car maintenance. I can trust him.

    I’m not convinced that a dealership can do a better job on an oil change than a lube place. I take my cars to Monro Muffler/Brake for most oil changes. They do a good job.

  • Kelly Pearce

    Jason, one of the things that I discovered about the auto repairs business is that mechanics are only paid for the work they do. Although a shop might have five guys “working”, they are actually only “present” and they get paid based on work they do. So essentially it is in their (the mechanics) best interest to advise you to do repairs. That is why it is better to find a small repair shop.

    For years I have dealt with a small shop that has two co-owners, one apprentice and one parts/customer coordinator. They are always busy, you usually have to book 3-4 days in advance to get you vehicle in, however they will also take you right away if something is really wrong. They are, simply the best.

    One of the things that really bug me is when a shop charges at percentage cost of the repair for “consumables” like lubricants, cleaners, shop towels etc. Isn’t that why we pay a labour charge? I mean let’s break it down, there is no way that a dealership that is charging $95/hour for labour is paying the mechanic more that $35/hour for his time, and then they are only paying him for the time he actually works on a vehicle. So that leaves $60/hour for the dealership to cover all their other expenses. It just strikes me that things like “consumables” should be covered under the dealerships overhead, not directly applied to my bill. The way things are going I soon expect to see a bill that includes utility charges (they had to use a hoist), insurance (‘cause something might happen while your vehicle is in THEIR shop,) etc. When I see charges like this I usually object and ask “What am I paying a labour rate for?” You would be surprised how often these type of charges are removed from the bill when you object.

    It’s kind of like the $4.95 network charge that your cell phone service provider charges you over and above your monthly plan. They should call it “Extra Profit without Service” since they charge it and don’t provide anything for it.

  • Cold Flame

    Hey Jason,

    Thought I’d drop in on this one. Although changing fluids is recommended, it’s very rarely necessary. It is 100% dependant on driving habits/tendencies, environmental/weather conditions, etc… ie: If I’m doing a lot of towing or have done a lot of driving in dusty conditions, I’ll change my oil earlier than normal and also keep very close track of my differential fluids, tranny fluid, brake fluids, etc… They tend to degrade a lot faster in dusty conditions, and certainly much faster while towing trailers, boats, etc…

    If you want a good shop that I will speak highly of that is local to Calgary, check out these guys: http://www.option-import.com/ They are very fair on pricing, won’t give you what you don’t need, and are very efficient. They specifically state they’re Acura/Honda specialists, but they do all types of cars and will save you upwards of 30-40% on quoted dealership maintenance for the same service. I have sent my Mom there (who has nothing but positive things to say about them), co-workers, and I take my own personal truck there now that I’m off warranty.

    And no, I’m not affiliated with them, but for the amount of business I’ve sent their way, I should be getting referral fees! =) But in answer to all above, it is so very subjective and is very much an opinionated matter.

  • Wow thanks for sharing will definitely be more careful.